JUBA (AA) – U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan have helped evacuate 400 civilians who fled their homes due to ongoing clashes in Bentiu, capital of the northern Unity State, between government troops and rebels loyal to sacked vice-president Riek Machar.
“During the violence, approximately 400 civilians fled from Bentiu and took shelter with United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) troops stationed at the airport,” the mission said in a Friday press release.
“UNMISS protected the civilians and then escorted them from the airport to the protection-of-civilians area in the UNMISS compound outside Bentiu,” it added.
Toby Lanzer, head of the mission, expressed concern regarding the clashes, calling on both sides to refrain from further violence.
“I am deeply troubled by this morning’s outbreak of violence and condemn it,” Lanzer was quoted by the mission as saying.
“UNMISS has taken swift action to protect the people who sought shelter at the airport; we are now receiving these civilians into our base,” he added.
“I call on those responsible for today’s hostilities to refrain from any further violence and to avoid any actions that hinder the protection or assistance provided by UNMISS and aid agencies respectively,” Lanzer said.
During the attacks, the mission said, “heavy, sustained small arms and artillery fire was heard to the southeast of the UNMISS base in Bentiu. One artillery shell exploded next to the UNMISS base, however, nobody was injured.”
Earlier in the day, army spokesman Col. Joseph Marier told Anadolu Agency that clashes had erupted in Jonglei and Unity states following an attack on the two oil-rich states by rebels loyal to Machar.
“This morning at around 6:45am, rebel forces attacked our position in Ayod County [in Jonglei],” Marier said.
He added that at least 120 people had been killed when government forces repulsed the attack.
“On our side, we lost six soldiers and 11 were wounded,” Marier said.
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir accused Machar, his sacked vice president, of plotting to overthrow his regime.
Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have since been displaced in fighting between the two rivals, leading to an increasingly dire humanitarian situation for large swathes of the population.
In recent months, the two camps have held on-again, off-again peace talks in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African trade bloc based in Djibouti.
Representatives of the two sides are currently in the Ethiopian capital to discuss implementation of a June agreement to form a transitional government.
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